What impact do assumptions about missing data have on conclusions? A practical sensitivity analysis for a cancer survival registry.


Smuk, M; Carpenter, JR; Morris, TP; (2017) What impact do assumptions about missing data have on conclusions? A practical sensitivity analysis for a cancer survival registry. BMC Med Res Methodol, 17 (1). p. 21. ISSN 1471-2288 DOI: 10.1186/s12874-017-0301-0

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Abstract

Within epidemiological and clinical research, missing data are a common issue and often over looked in publications. When the issue of missing observations is addressed it is usually assumed that the missing data are 'missing at random' (MAR). This assumption should be checked for plausibility, however it is untestable, thus inferences should be assessed for robustness to departures from missing at random. We highlight the method of pattern mixture sensitivity analysis after multiple imputation using colorectal cancer data as an example. We focus on the Dukes' stage variable which has the highest proportion of missing observations. First, we find the probability of being in each Dukes' stage given the MAR imputed dataset. We use these probabilities in a questionnaire to elicit prior beliefs from experts on what they believe the probability would be in the missing data. The questionnaire responses are then used in a Dirichlet draw to create a Bayesian 'missing not at random' (MNAR) prior to impute the missing observations. The model of interest is applied and inferences are compared to those from the MAR imputed data. The inferences were largely insensitive to departure from MAR. Inferences under MNAR suggested a smaller association between Dukes' stage and death, though the association remained positive and with similarly low p values. We conclude by discussing the positives and negatives of our method and highlight the importance of making people aware of the need to test the MAR assumption.

Item Type: Article
Faculty and Department: Faculty of Epidemiology and Population Health > Dept of Medical Statistics
Research Centre: Centre for Statistical Methodology
PubMed ID: 28166735
Web of Science ID: 394307400001
URI: http://researchonline.lshtm.ac.uk/id/eprint/3482703

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